The Established Church
What is the significance for us all, as individuals living in this parish? It means that the vicar has responsibility for everyone here and that baptism, marriage and funeral services and burials are available for all, whether or not the people involved come to church.
The establishment of the Church of England (CofE) as it exists today came into existence at the time of the English Reformation, on the basis of the idea of distinct, but related, responsibilities of the Church and State. By the Act of Settlement of 1689 the constitutional position of the CofE had a range of legal privileges and responsibilities, but over time ever increasing religious rights have been granted to other Churches, those of other faiths and those professing no faith at all. For example, until the early 19th century access to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge was restricted to those who were communicant (ie received holy communion) members of the CofE. This and other restrictions (such as the civic rights of Protestant dissenters and Roman Catholics) were gradually removed in 1828 and 1829 respectively, with the exception of who can inherit the throne.
Main features of Establishment
- Spiritual responsibility for every place and every person in England, hence the legal obligation to baptise, marry and inter the body or ashes of those resident within the parish when asked to do so. Clergy are also enabled to act as registrars for the State and therefore legalise marriages.
- The monarch must be in a position to receive communion within the CofE
- The Archbishop of Canterbury is the person who crowns the monarch
- Representatives of the CofE have ‘precedence in all religious services associated with events of importance in the national life’
- CofE bishops sit in the House of Lords by virtue of their office and a bishop says prayers in the House each day at the beginning of the day’s sitting. There are a total of 26 bishops entitles to sit in the House consisting of the two archbishops, the bishops of London, Durham and Winchester by right and 21 other diocesan bishops based on their length of service. (There are 43 diocesan bishops altogether, besides a bishop of Gibraltar who covers Europe). Besides leading the House in prayer they are to ensure that God’s voice is heard, particularly when major ethical issues are debated.
- All bishops are appointed by the Crown on the advice of the Prime Minister who has names presented to him/her by the Church
- All clergy who are British subjects have to take an oath of allegiance to the Crown before they can take office
- General Synod (made up of bishop, clergy and lay (non clergy) members) can only meet when a writ for them to do so has been issued by the Crown and the Queen opens each 5-yearly session
- Church laws (called Canons ad Measures) agreed by Synod become laws of the land. They must have royal assent to become laws or be agreed by parliament in the case of Measures.
- Church courts (Consistory courts) are part of the country’s legal system and their verdicts are enforceable by the State.
- The CofE cannot discontinue using the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) unless parliament gives its agreement to a measure specifically allowing it to do so (this is why the revised BCP as proposed by the CofE in 1928, but rejected by parliament, has never been officially recognised)
- The Queen is described as the ‘Supreme Governor of the CofE’ and thus all churches in Great Britain are subject to her authority as Head of State although it is the ministers, the clergy, and not the Queen who have the authority in spiritual matters ie to preach the word and celebrate the sacraments of baptism and holy communion that make the Church the Church that it is.
Further information and discussion can be found in ‘The Established Church: past, present and future’ edited by Mark Chapman, Judith Maltby and William Whyte and published in 2011